That familiar drifting scent when you enter the studio is often considered a nicety, a pleasant marker of your arrival to practice... something different, something uniquely tied to that experience, (and of course is that!) but as with the rest of yoga it’s steeped in tradition, symbolism and specificity!
Sandalwood... the most familiar scent.
Sandalwood, especially of Indian origin due to its high levels and purity of oil content, has long been considered sacred. Temple doors are carved from it, as are the intricate carved surroundings and figurines that adorn shrines and homes. As a paste it is used to anoint the forehead in Hindu traditions. In its oil form it is one of the main components of Ayurvedic healing, its use as an antiseptic has been identified in many folk healing traditions, and even as far as ancient Egypt it was a key element of embalming rituals. More recently studies suggest that sandalwood smoke is capable of removing large quantities of microbial impurities in the air.
In Buddhism sandalwood is heralded as the perfect aid to meditation and inquiry, claiming the ability to stimulate the senses, invoke trust and self-belief whilst fostering groundedness, enthusiasm and ultimately tranquility.
Sandalwood incense forms the constant backdrop then at YogaTherapies for good reason, although other incenses may be used to help foster the intentions of the session through their aromatherapeutic qualities.
Smudging is a method of energy clearing or cleansing where plant medicines are burned to purify the air and the energy. The lightness of the smoke is believed to attach to dense, heavy or “stuck” energy and restore it to its fluid and vital state.
White Sage...derives from the Latin “Salvia” meaning “to heal” and is most notable for its presence in Native American and Latin American Shamanic traditions.
Where incense might be considered feminine in nature, relating to the nurturing qualities of the manifest world or Prakriti, Sage and other materials are considered masculine in nature relating to Purusa, pure consciousness and potentiality. Here then we move away from an understanding of “good” vs “bad” energy and instead clear ALL energy, to create a new and excitingly open fresh canvas so to speak. Think of smudging then as a full stop and an ending ready for the new sentence to be written. Your new intention then is incredibly important, and freshly potent.
Palo Santo...meaning Holy Wood has its roots in the indigenous Amazonian traditions, and additional to its cleansing properties claims a spiritual protection, as it helps to clarify, to set and to seal your intentions. It has a softer, sweeter smell than the herby strength of sage, and is burned as a wood, as opposed to sage where the leaves are burned. It burns slowly, and in small dose, making it better suited to personal rituals, whereas the quick burning and expansive nature of sage make it appropriate for large and even open spaces.
Sadly, global knowledge of, and the resultant demand for these holy plants has resulted in a move to mass production that has overstretched and endangered these plants whilst over ruling the ancient and deeply reverential methods for their harvesting.
It is important then that we are cautious of the sources, and are sparing and considerate with our usage. Always ensure you purchase your products from a company that uses only sustainable resources, our favourite is sacred essence.co.uk.
Creating a home ritual of smudging.
Once you have your smudging materials a few other tools are required, an abalone shell, and a birds feather.
As well as being a handy ash catcher, the shimmering interior of the shell represents the water element. The unlit herbs represent the element of earth, the lit of fire. The smoke symbolises the element of air and the guiding waft of the feather ether or spirit. In this way the total cycle of energy and the natural world is respected in the ceremony.
Depending on the intention of your ceremony may also determine the direction you move the smoke. Moving clockwise is said to be more effective at manifesting new energy, or “bringing in”, whilst moving counterclockwise helps to fully open the energy body and thus facilities release of “moving out”.